We resume our reading of the Psalms. You will find an introduction to the Psalms, here.
A prayer for your used before reading from Gregory of Nazianus (329-389) an early Church father.
Lord, as I read the psalms let me hear you singing. As I read your words, let me hear you speaking. As I reflect on each page, let me see your image. And as I seek to put your precepts into practice, let my heart be filled with joy. Amen.
Psalm 47: An enthronement hymn celebrating the reign of God. It may have been used as part of a liturgical procession (v5). Notice that the declaration of God as king is made three times.
Psalm 48: A song of Zion, like Pss 46; 76; 84; 122. Verses 1-3 praise God and God’s home Zion. The language is similar to language used in Canaanite mythology. Perhaps suggesting that God has defeated Baal the Canaanite god or perhaps this is an instance of Israel appropriating the language and images of surrounding cultures. In other cultures there were stories of a god defeating chaos to become the most high god, receiving the acclaim of other heavenly beings and building a temple. Verses 4-8 may not refer to a particular battle but rather may be a description of a symbolic battle. Notice that all the kings needed to do was to see God’s citadels and they panicked. Verses 9-11, the Temple is a reminder to God’s steadfast love. In the ancient world, military force was equated with justice and proper governance. Verses 12-14 a call to look at the city to see what God has done.
Psalm 49: There are textual difficulties with the psalm and your Bible may note alternate translations of some words and phrases. Often this is classified as a wisdom psalm but it could also be interpreted as instruction. There are two sets of refrains, v 7 and 15, and 12 and 20 which help us understand the psalm. Verses 1-4 are a call to listen. Verses 5-12, the psalmist has wealthy enemies. We might expect a call to God for deliverance but what we have is a consideration of the folly of trusting in wealth. Verses 13 -20 as the psalm continues it becomes more bold in its assertion. We are instructed not to be afraid of the wealthy.
Psalm 50: A covenant renewal. The first of the psalms of Asaph. This is the only psalm of Asaph in book two, the rest are in book three. Asaph was one of David’s musicians. Verses 1-6 God comes in fire and tempest and summons those in covenant with him. Verses 7-15 God rejects animal sacrifices. In the ancient world, sacrifices were understood to be offerings of food to the gods. But this was not to be Israel’s understanding of the purpose of sacrifices. A sacrifice of thanksgiving was mostly eaten by the one offering the sacrifice. Verses 16-23 the community is rebuked. In verses 7-15 the sacrifices are rebuked, here the sins are rebuked. The psalm ends (v 22-23) with a final warning and blessing. Does this psalm remind you of what the prophets said?
Psalm 51: A lament; This psalm has a particular incident in mind. You may wish to read 2 Samuel 12 for the story of Nathan and David. Even the king needs to repent. Notice the repetition of wash, blot out, heart, God and Spirit. Verses 1-8 are asking for forgiveness. Hyssop branches were used for sprinkling liquids as part of a purification ritual. Verses 9-17 are about the results of forgiveness. Verses 18-19 may be a later addition asking for the rebuilding of them Temple so that sacrifices may be offered. These verses may have been added to counter any anti-Temple, anti-sacrifice reading of this psalm.
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of the Psalms
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Clifford, Richard, “Psalms” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Stuhlmueller, Carroll, “Psalms” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
McCann,Jr, J. Clifton “Psalms”,in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 3, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996.